We’ve heard plenty about thunder and lightning occurring during an ordinary thunderstorm, but did you know that it’s also possible to have thunder and lightning during a snowstorm? This phenomenon is commonly known as thundersnow. According to an article published by National Geographic in 2009, thundersnow is caused by an unstable air mass which is cold enough to produce wintery precipitation. The occurrence of thundersnow is also linked to heavier snowfall rates within powerful blizzards or heavy snow squalls.

The occurrence of thundersnow is relatively rare, proving to be the most common in strong squalls of snow. The amount of energy and atmospheric instability needed to create such an event is usually uncommon during the winter months due to cooler temperatures. However, with a strong burst of cold air that meets warmer air, it creates a typical “thunderstorm-like” environment that is favorable for lightning and thunder.

For further reading on the science behind the occurrence of thundersnow, here are some other studies that have investigated the topic:

Climatology of Thundersnow Events over the Contiguous United States

An Overview of Thundersnow

A Review of Thundersnow Events across the United States

Although the occurrence of thundersnow is rare, there are areas that have better chances of experiencing such events. Portions of the northern Midwest and Great Lakes regions have statistically seen more confirmed thundersnow events. However, thundersnow can occur anywhere, as long as the atmospheric dynamics are present.

So what exactly does a thundersnow event look and sound like? Well, it’s basically like a thunderstorm while it’s snowing. Usually, instead of seeing a bolt of lightning, the sky is illuminated by a flash. Not long after the flash of lightning, the thunder roars. An interesting fact also discussed in the above research is that the snow acts as a sound suppressor. Unlike being able to hear thunder from many miles away, the thunder that occurs in a thundersnow event is fairly localized.

I will leave you now with some examples of recent thundersnow events. Some of my favorite clips involve The Weather Channel Meteorologist Jim Cantore. Jim has had some major luck when it comes to having thundersnow interrupt his live and recorded broadcasts, and his reactions are priceless.

Jim Cantore; Harrisburg, PA; “Snowtober” 2011
Ginger Zee; Topeka, KS; 2-21-13
Jim Cantore; Worcester, MA; 12-7-96

Jim Cantore; Chicago, IL; 2-2-11 (best Cantore reaction!)

Kyle B. Swartz; Chicago IL; 2-2-11

On a personal note, I am asking of my followers and viewers to participate and share my survey regarding the use of social media to disperse vital news, weather, and emergency information. This survey is part of my research project for an honors contract at my college and I am hoping to collect at least 500 responses. The survey is a quick ten questions and should only take about two to three minutes. Thank you in advance!
Link to survey: